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Govs. Holton and Wilder Receive VBA’s Highest Honor

Wednesday, January 29, 2014   (0 Comments)
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Award Recognizes Distinguished Service

When three Virginia governors share a stage, the event takes on special meaning.

In Williamsburg on Jan. 24, former Govs. A. Linwood Holton Jr. and L. Douglas Wilder received the highest honor of The Virginia Bar Association in appreciation for their lives of public service. Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, a 2001 recipient of the honor, presented the award, which in 2008 was named in his honor.

The Gerald L. Baliles Distinguished Service Award honors exceptional service and contributions to the bar and public at large. The 2014 recipients were honored during a banquet at the VBA’s 124th Annual Meeting. The three-day conference this year was held in collaboration with the Old Dominion Bar Association.

“Linwood Holton and Douglas Wilder are from different parties, different parts of Virginia and different backgrounds, and their terms as governor are separated by decades, but their stories are bound by a thread that traces the progress of justice, equality and opportunity in our commonwealth,” Baliles said.

The director and CEO of the Miller Center at the University of Virginia followed that thread to draw a connection through history: Holton making a mark in 1969 as Virginia’s first Republican governor in Virginia in 100 years and opposing Massive Resistance from the moment that he entered politics; Wilder, the grandson of slaves, entering politics in 1969 and becoming the first African-American elected governor of any U.S. state 20 years later. “Surely Governor Wilder’s historic success in Virginia marked a milestone on the path that Barack Obama traveled almost 20 years later to the highest office in the nation,” said Baliles, who serves on the VBA Committee on Special Issues of National & State Importance.

In both Wilder and Holton’s inaugural addresses, each touched on a vision of government based on the partnership of all citizens for justice and the common good.

“The gentlemen we honor tonight stand out in the long path toward those ideals,” Baliles said.

Portrait of Justice Cleo E. Powell Unveiled

During the VBA banquet, the statewide voluntary organization of attorneys, judges and law school officials witnessed the unveiling of the VBA-commissioned portrait of Justice Cleo E. Powell of The Supreme Court of Virginia. Powell was sworn into office in 2011, and is the first African-American woman justice and the fifth woman to serve on the state’s high court. Artist Vicars Lynn McKinney of Raleigh, N.C., painted the portrait. For more than 50 years, the VBA has commissioned a painting of each new justice. The portraits hang in the chambers of the justices until their retirement, when the portraits are given to the court and become part of its portrait collection.

Young Lawyers Division awards

Additionally, the 2013 chair of the Young Lawyers Division, Travis G. Hill, presented honors to two attorneys for service to the division and the VBA as a whole:

W. Alexander Burnett of Williams Mullen in Richmond received the Sandra P. Thompson Award for outstanding work and exceptional long-term service. As co-chair of the National Moot Court Competition for seven years, he has ably managed a signature event that involves law students from four states in a competition that requires the coordination of logistics as well as multiple volunteers and judges.

Christopher M. Gill of Christian & Barton, L.L.P., in Richmond, received the Emerson G. Spies Award for enthusiasm, loyalty and dedication in work for the association in a given year. As co-chair of the Legal Food Frenzy, he has overseen significant growth in the annual two-week competition among legal offices. Last year, a record high number of employers participated, and in the seven years of the project, more than 10 million pounds worth of food has been collected and distributed to food banks around the state to serve Virginians facing hunger.

The VBA Young Lawyers Division comprises attorneys age 36 or younger, or those older who have been practicing law for three or fewer years. This group manages about 50 projects and activities, from law school student councils to staffing pro bono hot line evenings, and mentor programs with elementary schools.

About The Virginia Bar Association

The Virginia Bar Association (, the first statewide organization for lawyers in Virginia, is the largest voluntary bar association in the commonwealth, with 5,500 members. Its mission is to be the independent voice of the Virginia lawyer, advancing the highest ideals of the profession through advocacy and volunteer service. The VBA provides many avenues to assist members in the legal profession, ranging from educational programming, community service opportunities, and member benefits.

About the Legal Food Frenzy

Started in 2007, the Legal Food Frenzy is a collaborative effort of the VBA Young Lawyers Division, the attorney general’s office and the Federation of Virginia Food Banks. It pits legal offices of similar ilk – by firm or employer size or law school – in a friendly competition with their peers. The largest overall contributors, by employer type and per-capita, receive recognition. The eighth annual event will be March 31-April 11, 2014. The Virginia model has spawned similar contests in other states, including North Carolina, Georgia, Illinois and Massachusetts.

Law groups must register to participate. They can sign up at Registrants receive customized food and fund collection materials. Contest points also are awarded for registrants who sign up before the end of the two-week competition to volunteer as a group at one of the food banks across the state.

Media Contacts

Marilyn Shaw
Communications Coordinator
The Virginia Bar Association
701 E. Franklin St., Ste. 1120
Richmond, VA 23219

Yvonne C. McGhee
Executive Director
The Virginia Bar Association
Telephone: (804) 644-0041

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